Lawmakers in Ann Arbor, Michigan have voted to allow up to 28 medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits. Currently, about a dozen dispensaries are doing business in Ann Arbor. The city council set the cap with a vote at its meeting on May 21.
Ann Arbor, home of the annual Hash Bash, has a long history of progressive cannabis policy. City residents voted to decriminalize marijuana in 1972 by enacting a fine of only five dollars for possession. And in 2004, voters approved medical marijuana legislation by a margin of three to one.
Activists Want More
Not everybody in Ann Arbor agrees with the limit on dispensaries. Chuck Ream received a High Times lifetime achievement award for his activism in 2014. He sees the council’s action as a continuation of prohibitionist policies, according to a report. At Monday’s meeting, he told the council just how he felt.
“To place an arbitrary number on the amount of dispensaries that will be allowed, or a distance requirement between them, is pure Reefer Madness,” he said.
Besides setting a limit on the number of shops, the city council is also considering increasing the mandated minimum distance between them. But instead of being more restrictive, Ream believes that Ann Arbor should embrace the opportunity that legal medical marijuana offers. To do otherwise continues the stigma of cannabis and is contrary to the will of the people, he argues.
“Ann Arbor should be the first city to set aside a cannabis business district, which would be vibrant and popular,” he said. “We can’t have caps on dispensaries and mandatory distances between dispensaries in Ann Arbor. It makes it look like there is something bad about cannabis, which Ann Arbor voters absolutely do not believe.”
Ream, who once operated a dispensary in Ann Arbor, hopes to open another one on a vacant property in the city. He believes that his new business will actually help to improve the neighborhood.
“We want to create the best dispensary ever from the ground up,” he said. “Our proposed lot has been a mess of broken asphalt for well over a decade. We would transform it into a stunningly beautiful place leading with foliage and flowers.”
Will the Cap Be Lifted?
If the limit of 28 shops stands, Ream’s chances of success appear limited. The city has already received 38 applications for new dispensary licenses. Of those, authorities have granted zoning approval to 11. Regulators are also considering the applications for 14 more proposed sites that meet the current minimum distance of 600 feet from other dispensaries. Eight more applications are on hold because they do not meet the distance requirements. Two additional applications submitted after the city passed a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries last month are also on hold.
City Council Member Zachary Ackerman voted in favor of the 28 dispensary limit. But, he said, the cap is temporary and officials could perhaps lift it in the future. For now, though, he believes that the limit makes sense.
“Like most commercial uses, we want to spread them out throughout the city as much as possible,” Ackerman said. “We want them spread out so people have equal access to them.”
However, Ream believes that tight restrictions on marijuana are contrary to the public’s wishes.
“I need a dispensary license and Ann Arbor voters support cannabis,” he countered.